Published: Wed, April 11, 2018
Medical | By Mark Scott

Myanmar court refuses to dismiss charges against journalists

Myanmar court refuses to dismiss charges against journalists

Seven of Myanmar's military personnel were sentenced to ten years prison and hard labour as alleged accomplices in the killing of Rohingya Muslims in the country's Rakhine state.

At least 6,700 Rohingya Muslims were killed between August and September during the crackdown, global aid group Doctors Without Borders said in December after conducting a field survey.

Myanmar has rejected accusations of ethnic cleansing in its western state of Rakhine, saying its security forces launched a legitimate counter-insurgency operation on August 25 in response to Rohingya militant attacks.

The army in January made a rare admission that its soldiers had killed 10 Rohingya villagers who were captured and accused of being "terrorists" during insurgent attacks a year ago in Inn Din village in northern Rakhine.

The UN has accused Myanmar's army of ethnic cleansing, saying there are even possible "hallmarks of genocide" with refugees bringing with them consistent testimony of murder, rape and arson.

The two reporters have been held in Yangon's Insein prison since their arrest while facing hearings to determine whether the case will go to trial, with 17 out of 25 witnesses having given testimony.

The military's version of events is contradicted by accounts given to Reuters by Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim witnesses published in the February story.

The army has claimed the Rohingya men were terrorists, but has not presented any evidence to back up the claim. But the reporters could face a maximum of 14 years.

"Everybody knows it's unfair", said Wa Lone's wife, Pan Ei Mon.

The military says the soldiers involved in the murders have been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

One of his lawyers Than Zaw Aung also compared the cases.

Almost 700,000 Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority, have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape a military crackdown since August.

"The decision to press forward with this case sends a clear message to journalists operating in the country that certain topics remain off-limits, with dire consequences for those who dare address them, however peacefully". Reuters announced last month that that prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney had joined the legal team.

Condemnation of Wednesday's ruling by the presiding magistrate Ye Lwin came predictably from Reuters, which has been a vocal supporter of its local reporters as the case has proceeded.

Another witness said he had signed the search form recording the reporters' arrests before the items seized from them had been filled in.

"We believe that there are solid grounds for the court to dismiss this matter and to release our journalists", Adler said in a statement.

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